Ranking of “HIS DARK MATERIALS” Season One (2019) Episodes

Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of “HIS DARK MATERIALS”, HBO’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s 1995 novel, “The Golden Compass” aka “Northern Lights” and the first part of his 1997 novel, “The Subtle Knife”. Written by Jack Thorne, the series stars Dafne Keen:

RANKING OF “HIS DARK MATERIALS” SEASON ONE (2019) Episodes

1. (1.02) “The Idea of North” – Orphan Lyra Belacqua starts a new life in London with the charming socialite, Mrs. Marisa Coulter; determined to find her missing friend, Roger Parslow. The Gyptians continue searching for their missing children and the elusive Gobblers, a group of government sanctioned child snatchers.

2. (1.06) “The Daemon-Cages” – Lyra discovers the horrific truth behind the Gobblers’ activities at a science station in the North called Bolvangar.

3. (1.08) “Betrayal” – As the Magesterium, a religious-political body, closes in; Lyra learns more about Lord Asriel’s rebellion. But her assistance to him comes at a great personal cost.

4. (1.01) “Lyra’s Jordan” – Lyra’s world at Jordan College in Oxford, is turned upside-down by the arrival of her long-absent uncle Lord Asriel from the North. Meanwhile, she meets the glamorous Mrs. Coulter for the first time.

5. (1.04) “Armour” – As Lyra and the Gyptians head up North, she searches for allies in her search for Lord Asriel. With the help of a balloonist named Lee Scoresby, she comes across an armored bear named Iorek Byrnison at a port town in Svalbard.

6. (1.03) “Spies” – Lyra is rescued from the clutches of the Gobblers by the Gyptians, who helps her piece together more about her past and keep her safe from the Magisterium.

7. (1.07) “Fight to the Death” – Separated from her friends and captured by the armoured bears ruled the usurper king Iofur Raknison, Lyra must use all of her methods of deception to thwart him in order to be rescued by Iorek Byrnison, the true king. Meanwhile, Mrs. Coulter plots her next move.

8. (1.05) “The Lost Boy” – On their journey to the Bolvangar Station, Lyra and the Gyptians finally discover what the Gobblers have been doing to the missing children. In the alternate World, an adolescent named Will Parry and his mentally ill mother Elaine are being stalked by Magisterium official Lord Carlo Boreal, who seeks Will’s father, a missing explorer named John Parry.

“Clams Casino”

Below is an article about a dish known as Clams Casino:

“CLAMS CASINO”

I have been familiar with a good number of appetizers in my time. But for the likes of me, I have never heard of one known as Clams Casino. What attracted my attention to this particular dish? To be honest, I was reading a chapter in a cookbook about American appetizers, when a passage about Clams Casino caught my eye.

Clams Casino, as I had earlier pointed out, is an appetizer that originated in one of the New England states. One serving basically consists of a littleneck or cherrystone clam cooked with breadcrumbs, bacon, green peppers, butter and garlic. Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, white wine, lemon juice, shallots or onion are also used to season each clam. Tabasco sauce is sometimes added. And parsley is sometimes used as a garnish.

The clams, bacon, and other ingredients are cooked in various ways depending on the recipe. The cooked clams and bacon are placed on the half shells of clams. Then the breadcrumbs are sprinkled on top before the clams are either baked or broiled to a golden brown. There are some variations to Clams Casino. As earlier pointed out, the clams are either baked or broiled. But the constant ingredient to the dish is bacon, which is regarded as a key factor to its success. Some chefs recommend using smoked bacon for its salty flavor. While others simply advocate using bacon that is not smoked.

The origin of Clams Casino seemed to be shrouded in legend. Many believe the dish was created in 1917, in the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island. A New York socialite named Mrs. Paran Stevens wanted something for her guests at Little Casino. According to Good Housekeeping Great American Classics, Little Casino’s maître d’hôtel, Julius Keller, was the one responsible for creating the dish on Mrs. Stevens’ behalf. The latter named the dish after the hotel and word of the dish, along with its popularity, eventually spread across the United States. New Orleans residents substituted the clams with oysters, since the latter was prevalent in Southern Louisiana.

Clams casino remains a very popular dish in Rhode Island and appears on the menus of many restaurants throughout the state. In his 2003 cookbook, “American Dish: 100 Recipes from Ten Delicious Decades”, author Merrill Shindler wrote that if a restaurant wanted to become note during the early 20th century, it would provide a dish that involved baking shellfish. This is why dishes like Clams Casino and Oysters Rockefeller became among the survivors of the shellfish fad of that period. The dish has become very popular with Italian-Americans and is permanently featured on the menus of nearly every trattoria in Manhatttan’s Little Italy. In fact, Clams Casino is often served at Italian festivals and during the holidays in the country.

Here is a recipe for Clams Casino from the AllRecipes.com website:

Ingredients

24 large clams
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup minced onion
Large White Onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup dried bread crumbs
4 slices bacon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation

*In a small skillet, cook bacon until crisp over medium heat. Crumble, and set aside.

*Wash clams. Place on a baking sheet. Heat in a preheated 350 degree F (175 degree C) oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or until clams open. Discard any that do not open. Remove meat from shells. Chop, and set aside.

*Add 2 tablespoons oil and butter to a small skillet, and place pan over medium heat. Add onion, pepper, and garlic; saute until tender. Remove from heat, and cool.

*In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, bacon, oregano, cheese, sauteed vegetables, and chopped clams. Mix well.

*Fill clam shells with mixture, and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika. Drizzle with olive oil.

*Bake at 450 degrees F (230 degrees C) for 7 minutes.

*Serve.

The Disappointment of “STAR TREK: PICARD” Season One Finale

THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF “STAR TREK: PICARD” SEASON ONE FINALE

The Season One finale for “STAR TREK: PICARD”, (1.10) “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”, was such a disappointment to me. To be honest, I did not foresee my negative reaction. Yes, I will admit that the entire season was not perfect. But I still managed to enjoy it . . . until I saw the season finale. Let me be frank. I had several issues with it.

My first disappointment from “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” proved to be the death of the synthetic individual known as Sutra. Despite being built up as a dangerous antagonist for retired Starfleet Admiral Jean-Luc Picard and his crew, her death proved to be so ridiculously anti-climatic that I found myself rolling my eyes. The moment Data’s creator, Dr. Noonian Soong, had discovered that she was responsible for the death of another synthetic and framed the Romulan spy Narek for it, he automatically shut her down. That was it. No conflict . . . nothing.

My second disappointment manifested in the appearances of both the Romulan and Starfleet fleets above the synthetics’ planet, Coppelius. Overdone much? I have not seen this many combatants appear for a single battle since Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films. Why did Starfleet Admiral (and Romulan mole) Oh sent such a large fleet of Romulan war birds against the planet? It was so unnecessary. And it made the ridiculously large fleet of Starfleet ships equally unnecessary to me. Which led me to another head scratcher . . . why was Will Riker in command of the Starfleet armada? Why? Aside from being a reservist officer, he had retired from full duty with Starfleet. Why would Starfleet send an reservist to a hot spot like Coppelius, when there were probably plenty of other competent on-duty commanders who could have led the armada to Coppelius?

My third disappointment was the fate of Dr. Agnes Jurati, a Daystrom Institute cyberneticist who had been recruited by Admiral Oh to spy on Picard. Why was she never turned over to Federation authority for the murder of her lover and fellow cyberneticist Dr. Bruce Maddox in (1.05) “Stardust City Rag”? She had confessed her crime to Picard and other members of the La Sierena crew, later in the season. Speaking of murder – did Picard and the others ever learn about the murder of black-marketeer Bjayzl at the hands of Seven-of-Nine, an ex-Borg and former member of the U.S.S. Voyager’s crew in the same episode? Seven had murdered her former lover for the torture and death of Seven’s protegee, ex-Borg and former Delta Quadrant resident, Icheb. If not, I can understand how she got away with murder. If Picard and the others had found out about Seven’s crime, why was she still free – like Agnes?

My fourth disappointment? Data’s death. Why was it necessary to relive his death in another STAR TREK production and in another setting? Was this scene all about Picard finally learning to accept his death? What made this ridiculous to me is that . . . Picard’s final acceptance of Data’s death had occurred within Picard’s consciousness following his own physical death. I mean . . . seriously? Besides, this entire scene was such a waste for me. I had learned to accept Data’s death after watching the 2002 movie, “STAR TREK: NEMESIS” for the first time.

My fifth disappointment? The Federation/Starfleet. The season had earlier hinted that the Federation was moving toward a less than ideal or less tolerant place. But this topic was never fully explored or exploited for that matter. And the showrunners reseted the organization’s status quo – much to my major disappointment – by sending Starfleet to come to the rescue of synthetics on Coppelia in the finale. Why? The Federation had spent most of Season One being hostile toward synthetics. How did the show runners suddenly do an 180-degree spin on this situation? They did this by having Picard expose Admiral Oh as a Romulan mole and the Romulans’ role in the destruction of the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards – an incident that led to the Federations’ hostility toward synthetics. Why did the show runners do this? I have no idea, but it is typical of the Star Trek franchise. When it comes to exploring the ugliness of humanity, the franchise always cops out in the end. Always.

My sixth disappointment with the episode? “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2” featured a moment in its last scene in which Picard’s friend and former colleague Rafaella “Raffi” Musiker exchanged glances and held hands with Seven-of-Nine. Huh? When did that happen? This whole relationship had popped out from no where. Trek fans had spent years complaining about Seven’s last relationship with Voyager’s executive officer, Commander Chakotay, during the last few episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. I have come across very few complaints about the excessive speed of her romance with Raffi. Talk about queer baiting. What makes this so annoying is that this was the second time “PICARD” had pulled this stunt. Apparently, the series attempted to develop some kind of relationship between Agnes Jurati and the La Sirena’s captain and former Starfleet officer, Chris Rios. I hate to say this but Santiago Cabrera and Alison Pill have no screen chemistry whatsoever. And I have also noticed the lack of romantic interaction between the pair since their only on-screen kiss, earlier in the season.

And my final complaint about “STAR TREK: PICARD”? The death of Jean-Luc Picard. Was it really necessary? Surely the series’ show runners could have saved this scenario for the series finale? As for moving Picard’s consciousness into a golem construct of his body . . . I was disgusted. I was disgusted that Dr. Soong and Agnes had committed this act without Picard’s consent. I would equate this action to Willow Rosenberg bringing Buffy Summers back from dead in Season Six of “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. What I found even more disgusting is that Picard had never condemned either Soong and Agnes for fiddling with his consciousness – his self – without his consent. Many fans may have been thrilled by this action. I was not. Someone had pointed out that earlier in the season, Picard had expressed a desire to survive ailment that would eventually kill him. But I do not recall Picard giving anyone permission – verbal or written – to have his consciousness transferred from his dying body to an android or any other entity. To commit such a major act without any thought to or discussion about the moral consequences is just abhorrent to me. And lazy writing.For me, it was an act of violation of a person’s individuality. I hope that the series would address this issue in Season Two. But I suspect they will not.

Overall, I did enjoy Season One of “STAR TREK: PICARD”. But I can honestly say that I did not find it particularly mind-blowing. I also felt that it had a few episodes that seemed more of a miss than a hit. But for me, the biggest miss or disappointment was its finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2”. I hope that the series does a better job in its second season.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1810s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions set during the 1810s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1810s

1. “Pride and Prejudice” (1995) – Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth starred in this award winning adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Simon Langton.

2. “Emma” (2009) – Romola Garai, Jonny Lee Miller and Michael Gambon starred in this excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The four-part miniseries was adapted by Sandy Welch and directed by Jim O’Hanlon.

3. “Vanity Fair” (1987) – Eve Matheson starred in this superb adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The sixteen-part miniseries was directed by Diarmuid Lawrence and Michael Owen Morris; and adapted by Alexander Baron.

4. “Pride and Prejudice” (1980) – Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The five-part miniseries was adapted by Fay Weldon and directed by Cyril Coke.

5. “War and Peace” (2016) – Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred in this excellent adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Harper.

6. “Vanity Fair” (1998) – Natasha Little starred in this award winning adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery’s 1848 novel. The six-part miniseries was directed by Marc Munden and adapted by Andrew Davies.

7. “Emma” (1972) – Doran Godwin and John Carson starred in this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries was adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by John Glenister.

8. “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This sequel to the 1955 television movie, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier”, conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Directed by Norman Foster, the TV movie starred Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York.

9. “War and Peace” (1972) – Anthony Hopkins, Morag Hood and Alan Dobie starred in this superb adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 novel. The twenty-part miniseries was adapted by Jack Pulman and directed by John Davies.

10. “Poldark” (1996) – John Bowe and Mel Martin starred in this television adaptation of Winston Graham’s 1981 novel from his Poldark series, “The Stranger From the Sea”. The television movie was directed by Richard Laxton and adapted by Robin Mukherjee.

Favorite Episodes of “OUTLANDER” Season One (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of “OUTLANDER”, STARZ’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel and literary series of the same name. Developed by Ronald D. Moore, the series stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan:

FAVORITE EPISODES OF “OUTLANDER” SEASON ONE (2014-2015)

1. (1.02) “Castle Leoch” – Former World War II nurse and time traveler Claire Beauchamp Randall is brought to Castle Leoch by a group of Highlanders that include Jamie Fraser and his maternal uncle Dougal MacKenzie. The Highlanders suspect she might be an English spy. Discovering she had traveled back to 1743, Claire tries to arrange travel back to the standing stones.

2. (1.11) “The Devil’s Mark” – Claire and the wife of the local procurator fiscal, Geillis Duncan, stand trial for witchcraft. Claire also learns a secret about Geillis’ past.

3. (1.08) “Both Sides Now” – Back in 1945, Claire’s husband, Frank Randall, continues to search for her; but he starts to lose hope of ever finding her. Meanwhile, Claire is trying to come to terms with her marriage to Jamie in 1743 Scotland.

4. (1.05) “Rent” – Claire joins Jamie and Dougal on the road with other members of Clan MacKenzie, as they collect the tenants’ rent on behalf their laird, Colum MacKenzie. She becomes aware of Dougal’s involvement in trying to raise money for the Jacobite rebellion.

5. (1.01) “Sassenach” – In this series premiere, Claire and Frank reunite after five years of war apart in 1945. Their second honeymoon in Scotland goes awry when she falls back through time to the 1740s.

Honorable Mention: (1.12) “Lallybroch” – Old family wounds reopen when Jamie returns to his family estate, Lallybroch, with new wife Claire in tow.

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Three (1996-1997)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Three of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK VOYAGER” SEASON THREE (1996-1997)

1 - 3.16 Blood Fever

1. (3.16) “Blood Fever” – While enduring pon farr, a lovesick Ensign Vorik unexpectedly passes it to Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, affecting her relationship with Chief Helmsman Tom Paris during an Away mission. Alexander Enberg guest-starred.

2 - 3.24 Displaced

2. (3.24) “Displaced” – A mystery develops when Voyager crew members are replaced, one-by-one, with aliens from an unknown race.

3 - 3.25 Worst Case Scenario

3. (3.25) “Worst Case Scenario” – When Torres discovers a hidden holodeck program in which the ship’s Maquis crewmen stage an insurrection, members of the Voyager crew begin clandestinely participating in it, with surprising dangerous results for Paris and Security Chief Tuvok. Martha Hackett guest-starred.

4 - 3.17 Unity

4. (3.17) “Unity” – Voyager’s First Officer, Commander Chakotay, crashes on a planet with a community of unassimilated Borg drones from all over the galaxy. Meanwhile, the ship encounters a Borg cube that is “dead in space”.

5 - 3.02 The Chute

5. (3.02) “The Chute” – While on leave on the Akritirian homeworld, Paris and Operations Chief Harry Kim are falsely accused of a terrorist bombing. While the two men struggle to survive in a brutal prison, Captain Kathryn Janeway and Voyager’s crew race against time to prove their innocence.

HM - 3.14 Alter Ego

Honorable Mention: (3.14) “Alter Ego” – Kim falls in love with a holodeck character from Neelix’s Polynesian resort program named Marayna. But when he seeks help from Tuvok to get over his “crush”, Marayna begins to behave strangely when she develops an obsession toward the Vulcan Security Chief.

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” (2019) Review

Despite its success at the box office, the second film in the Disney STAR WARS Sequel Trilogy, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI”, proved to be something of a publicity disaster. Many film critics loved it. An even greater number of moviegoers disliked it. Many have attributed this schism within the STAR WARS fandom as a contributing factor to the box office failure of “SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY”. To regain the universal love of the fandom, Disney Studios and Kathleen Kennedy of Lucasfilm brought back J.J. Abrams, who had directed “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”, to handled the trilogy’s third entry, “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

Disney Studios and Lucasfilm heralded “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” as not only the end of the franchise’s Sequel Trilogy, but also the end of the Skywalker family saga, which began under George Lucas. The 2019 movie began a year after “THE LAST JEDI”. The Resistance under Leia Organa has been hiding from the ever growing threat of the First Order, which has been ruled by her son, Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. Leia has also been training Force acolyte Rey, while orchestrating the Resistance’s attempts to rebuild the organization and form contacts with other worlds and factions throughout the Galaxy. However, the film’s opening crawl reveals that Emperor Sheev Palpatine is still alive, despite being tossed down the second Death Star’s reactor shaft by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader, while being electrocuted in “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Palpatine vows revenge against the Galaxy for its rejection of him and his power. Leia charges Poe Dameron, Finn and Rey to search for Palpatine and destroy him. Kylo Ren also seeks Palpatine with the intent to kill the latter and maintain his own supremacy of the First Order. Kylo Ren eventually manages to find Palpatine on the remote planet of Exegol. He learns that his former master, Snoke, had merely been a puppet of Palpatine. And the former Emperor wants him to find Rey and kill her in order to remove any possible threat to the resurgence of the Sith Order.

When I learned that J.J. Abrams would return to the “STAR WARS” franchise to conclude the Sequel Trilogy, my reactions were mixed. On one hand, I disliked his handling of “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. On the other hand, I completely loathed what Rian Johnson had done with “THE LAST JEDI”. And when Abrams had promised to do right by the Finn character, which had been so badly mishandled by Johnson . . . well, some part of me did not know whether to welcome Abrams’ return or be leery of it.

There were aspects of “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” that I liked. I was impressed by Dan Mindel’s cinematography for the movie, especially in scenes that featured the planet of Pasaana. I thought Mindel did an excellent job of utilizing the country of Jordan for those scenes, as shown below:

I was also impressed how Mindel shot the visual effects for the last duel between Rey and Kylo Ren among the second Death Star ruins on the Endor moon. Some of the film’s action sequences struck me as pretty memorable, thanks to Abrams’ direction, Mindel’s cinematography and stunt coordinator Eunice Huthart. I am referring to those scenes that feature the heroes’ occasional encounters with the First Order on Psaana and aboard the First Order star ship. I was also relieved to see the trilogy’s three protagonists – Rey, Finn and Poe Dameron – and Chewbacca spend a great deal of the movie together. The four characters managed to create a pretty solid dynamic, thanks to the performances of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Joonas Suotamo and it is a shame that audiences never got a chance to experience this dynamic in the trilogy’s other two films.

There was an aspect of the film’s narrative that delivered a great deal of satisfaction to me. It is a small matter, but involved Rey’s Jedi training. I am very relieved that Abrams finally allowed Rey to receive substantial training from a mentor, who happened to be Leia. A year had passed between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Rey’s first scene established that Leia had been training her during that year. The movie also established in a flashback that Leia had received her training from her brother Luke Skywalker. Why did I find this satisfying? Most of Luke’s own Jedi training had also occurred during the period of a year – between the events of “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. And during this period, he had received his training from . . . you know, I have no idea on how Luke managed to complete his training. Even after so many years. To this day, it is a mystery. And this is why I am grateful that Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio had made it clear that Leia had continued Rey’s training between “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”.

The performances featured in the movie struck me as pretty solid, especially from the leads – Ridley, Boyega, Isaac and Adam Driver. The movie also featured solid, yet brief performances from returning cast members such as Kelly Marie Tran, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Billie Lourd, Lupita Nyong’o, and the late Carrie Fisher. Dominic Monaghan, Naomie Ackie, Keri Russell and Richard E. Grant all made nice additions to the trilogy. It was great to see Billy Dee Williams reprise his role as Lando Calrissian. He was one of the bright spots of this film. Hell, it was even nice to see Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles again, despite his brief appearance. But if I must be honest, I was not particularly blown away by any of them – including the usually outstanding Boyega. Actually, I take that back. There was one cast member who provided a moment of superb acting. I refer to Joonas Suotamo, who did an excellent job in conveying a true moment of grief and despair for Chewbacca’s character in the film’s second half.

But I do have a complaint about one particular performance. And it came, from all people, Ian McDiarmid who portrayed the surprisingly alive Emperor Palpatine. How can I put this? This Palpatine seemed like a ghost of his former self. No. Wait. That was phrased wrong. What I meant to say is that McDiarmid’s portrayal of Palpatine in this film seemed like an exaggeration in compare to his performances in the Original and Prequel Trilogy films. Exaggerated . . . ham-fisted. I found McDiarmid’s scenes so wince-inducing that I could barely watch them. However, aware of McDiarmid’s true skills as an actor, I finally realized that his bad performance may have been a result of J.J. Abrams’ direction. The latter’s failure as a director in Palpatine’s scenes and failure to visualize the character as a subtle and manipulative villain really impeded McDiarmid’s performance.

Unfortunately, McDiarmid’s performance was not my only problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. I had a host of others. Many film critics have bashed J.J. Abrams for trying to reject what Rian Johnson had set up in “THE LAST JEDI”. I find this criticism ironic, considering that Johnson had rejected a great deal of what Abrams had set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. Not that it really matters to me. I disliked “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I disliked “THE LAST JEDI”. And if I must be brutally honest, I disliked “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Like the other two films, I thought the 2019 movie was pretty bad.

My first problem with “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” was its main narrative. Basically, the entire story revolved around the heroes and the First Order’s search for the now alive Palpatine. The film’s opening crawl pretty much announced to movie audiences that Palpatine was alive without bothering presenting this revelation as a surprise. It is simply the old case of “tell and not show” that has hampered a great number of fictional works throughout time. I believe this narrative device especially does not suit a plot for a motion picture or a television series, because it comes off as a cheat. It is lazy writing. Worse, most of the main characters spend a great deal of the movie searching for Palpatine. And when they finally discover him, no one bothered to ask how he had escaped death after being allegedly killed by Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader in “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. How did Palpatine survive being tossed to his death, while being electrocuted by Force lightning? Well, STAR WARS fans finally learned the truth in the film’s novelization written by Rae Carson. The only major character who immediately managed to find Palpatine was Kylo Ren, who used a Sith wayfinder . . . or compass. Meanwhile, Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca had to resort to following clues to lead to first a Sith dagger, and later, a Sith wayfinder – traveling from one planet to another at a dizzying speed. This whole search for a wayfinder and Palpatine struck me as unnecessarily rushed. I do not think it is a good thing when a person complains about the fast pacing of a movie with a 142 minutes running time. For me, this exposed the hollow nature of the movie’s narrative.

As I had earlier stated, the majority of the film’s narrative is centered around the protagonists’ determination to find Palpatine. A part of me wonders how did the Resistance and the First Order had planned to kill him, once he was discovered. And yes, the First Order’s leader, Kylo Ren, also wanted Palpatine’s dead. But how did any of them plan to kill him? The movie never conveyed any of the other characters’ plans. Worse, this search for Palpatine had transformed the movie into some space opera version of both the INDIANA JONES and NATIONAL TREASURE movie franchises. Was that why Abrams had decided to expose Palpatine’s return or resurrection in the film’s opening crawl? So he could have his major characters embark on this “Indiana Jones” style hunt for Palpatine from the get go? Or relive the whole “map to Luke Skywalker” search from “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that proved to be so irrelevant? Well guess what? The “Search for Palpatine” proved to be equally irrelevant. Watching Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewbacca hunt down artifacts that would lead them to Palpatine was one of the more ridiculous aspects of this film. I felt as if I had watched a hybrid STAR WARS/INDIANA JONES/NATIONAL TREASURE movie. It was fucking exhausting.

Returning to Palpatine, I was unpleasantly shocked to learn that during the thirty years he was missing, he had created a new fleet of Star Destroyers, each ship equipped with a planet-killing laser. Thirty years. Is that how long it took Palpatine (or his clone) to create a fleet of planet killing Star Destroyers? Is that why he had taken so long construct these ships? If one Star Destroyer can destroy a planet, why did he bother to wait so long to use any of them to re-take the Galaxy? Three decades? I wish I could say more, but I do not see the point. Is a Star Destroyer strong enough to be used as a “base” for a laser powerful enough to destroy a planet?

I have also noticed that the lightsaber duels featured in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” . . . well, they were bad. Quite a travesty, if I must be honest. I have never been that impressed by the lightsaber duels in the Sequel Trilogy, but even I must admit that Kylo Ren’s duels with both Finn and Rey in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” were somewhat better than the Obi-Wan Kenobi/Darth Vader duel in “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. But after the 2015 movie . . . dear God. Rey and Kylo Ren’s fight against Snoke’s guards in “THE LAST JEDI” struck me as something of a joke. But Rey and Kylo Ren’s duels in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” were simply abysmal. Dan Mindel’s cinematography and the movie’s visual effects team could do nothing to hide the laughable nature of the duels. Both Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver seemed to spend a great deal of their time slashing at each with no semblance of swordsmanship whatsoever. Where is Nick Gillard when you need him?

Not surprisingly, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” revealed a number of Force abilities that appeared for the first (or second time) in the STAR WARS franchise. The Force bond between Rey and Kylo Ren, which was created by Snoke in the previous film; allowed the First Order leader to snatch a necklace from the Resistance fighter’s neck in a violent manner – despite the fact that the pair was thousands of miles from each other. And in another scene, while Rey faced Palpatine and Kylo Ren faced the Knights of the Ren, she was able to hand over a lightsaber to him – despite being miles apart. How did they do this? I have not the foggiest idea. I do not even understand how Abrams and Terrio managed to create this ability in the first place. And frankly, I find it rather stupid and implausible. Force healing. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a Force user has the ability to heal. How did this come about? I have not the foggiest idea. If this had been the case during the events of the Prequel Trilogy, chances are Anakin Skywalker would have never become a Sith Lord. The Force healing ability made its debut in the Disney Plus series, “THE MANDALORIAN” . . . I think. However, Kylo Ren had the ability to use Force healing. So did Rey. I do not know who taught them or how . . . fuck it! I will just treat this as another plot device that came out of Lucasfilm’s ass. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also revealed that the “resurrected” Palpatine had the ability to transfer one person’s essence into the body of another. How? More contrived writing.

Speaking of contrivance, there is the matter of one Leia Organa. Although a part of me still believes Lucasfilm should have killed off Leia Organa in “THE LAST JEDI”, in the wake of Carrie Fisher’s death a year before the film’s release; I must admit that Abrams did an admirable job in utilizing old footage of the actress from “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, digital special effects and Billie Lourd as a body double for some of Leia’s scenes. But I hated the way Leia was finally killed off. It was similar to Luke’s ludicrous death in “THE LAST JEDI”. I HATE how Disney Studios and Lucasfilm portray the Force as some kind of energy that can kill an individual if it was used too long or too hard. As if the Force user was some kind of goddamn battery. I really hate that. And this is why I dislike Leia’s death just as much as I disliked Luke’s.

In fact, this movie seemed to be filled with contrived writing. As for the Rebel Alli . . . I mean the Resistance, I noticed that their numbers had grown since the end of “THE LAST JEDI”. Had Leia managed to recruit new members for the Resistance’s cause during the year between the two films? If so, “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” did not hint one way or the other. I mean there were barely enough Resistance members to crowd the Millennium Falcon in the last film’s finale. And the narrative for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” seemed to hint that aside from Maz Kanata, hardly anyone new had bothered to join the Resistance during that year between the two films. So . . . if this is true, why did the number of Resistance members seemed to have tripled during that year between the two movies? Among the new members is one Beaumont Kin, portrayed by “LOST” alumni Dominic Monaghan.

Speaking of characters – the arcs for the major characters have proven to be as disastrous as those featured in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and especially “THE LAST JEDI”. I was surprised to see Maz Kanata as a member of the Resistance. Her recruitment into the organization was never seen on screen. Even worse, the former smuggler and tavern owner was basically reduced to a background character with one or two lines. Actress Lupita Nyong’o’s time was certainly wasted for this film. Although I thought Rose Tico was a promising character, I never liked how Rian Johnson had used her as a very unnecessary mentor for Finn in “THE LAST JEDI”. However, my hopes that J.J. Abrams would do her character justice in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” proved to be fruitless. In this film, Rose had been reduced from supporting character to minor character, who spent most of her appearances interacting with Monaghan’s Beaumont Kin in three or four scenes. What a damn waste! Speaking of waste . . . poor Domhnall Gleeson. His character, General Armitage Hux, was another character whose presence was wasted in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Audiences learned in the film’s second half that he had become a mole for the Resistance, supplying the group information on the First Order’s movements. The problem with this scenario is that film had Hux explained that he was simply betraying his leader, Kylo Ren. But his reason for this betrayal was never fully explained, let alone developed. Harrison Ford returned in a brief cameo appearance as the ghost of Han Solo. Wait a minute. Let me re-phrase that. Ford returned as a figment of Kylo Ren’s imagination . . . as Han Solo. How was his performance? Unmemorable.

“THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” also featured a good number of new characters. Probably too many. I have already mentioned Resistance fighter Beaumont Kim. Abrams and co-writer Chris Terrio also introduced Jannah, a former stormtrooper who had deserted from the First Order like Finn. When she was introduced, I had assumed that Finn’s background would finally be explored. Never happened. Worse, Abrams only allowed Jannah – a new character – to speculate on her background in one line spoken to Lando Calrissian. And nothing else. Next, there was Zorri Bliss, a smuggler and former paramour of Poe Dameron’s, who provided the Resistance with information on how to interpret the Sith dagger in their possession. Aside from this task, Bliss managed to miraculously survive the destruction of Kijimi, her homeworld to participate in the final battle against Palpatine and the First Order. Through her, audiences learned that Poe was a former spice smuggler . . . a drug smuggler. More on this, later. And finally, we have Allegiant General Enric Pryde, who came out of no where to become Kylo Ren’s top commander. It occurred to me that Pryde turned out to be the Sequel Trilogy’s General Grievous. I love the Prequel Trilogy, but I never liked Grievous. He should have been introduced a lot earlier than the Prequel Trilogy’s last film. And Enric Pryde should have been introduced earlier than “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It would have made his brief conflict with Hux a lot more believable.

I read somewhere that the character of Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo is the most popular in the Sequel Trilogy. I am a firm admirer of actor Adam Driver and I thought he gave a solid performance as Kylo Ren. But . . . the character has never been a favorite of mine. I could complain that Kylo Ren is bad written, but I can honestly say the same about the other major (and minor) characters. Yet for some reason, Lucasfilm, a good number of the STAR WARS and media seemed to think the stars shined on Kylo Ren’s ass. I hate it when the glorification of a story or character is unearned and then shoved down the throats of the public. In “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, Kylo Ren’s character arc proved to be just as rushed and full of writing contrivances as his relationship arc in “THE LAST JEDI”. Honestly. Unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Original Trilogy, Kylo Ren’s redemption was never properly set up in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. It merely sprung up in the film’s last third act so that Abrams (the unoriginal storyteller that he is) could allow him to mimic his grandfather’s arc. Looking back on Kylo Ren’s character, he should have continued his arc from the end of “THE LAST JEDI” – as the main villain. Instead, Abrams and Lucasfilm brought back Palpatine so they could have Kylo Ren repeat Anakin’s arc and avoid dying as the film’s Big Bad. This decision only brought about bad writing. And then we have Poe Dameron. In some ways, Poe proved to be the worst written character in this trilogy. It almost seemed as if Lucasfilm, Abrams and Rian Johnson did not know what to do with him. His death was initially set up in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and he spent most of that film off-screen, only to make a miraculous re-appearance near the end, with no real explanation how he had survived the crash on Jakku. In “THE LAST JEDI”, Johnson had transformed Poe into some hot-headed Latino stereotype, who questioned the decisions of the Resistance’s two female leaders – Leia and Admiral Holdo. And “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” made another revision to Poe’s character. The movie revealed that Poe had a past romance with the smuggler Zorri Bliss and was a spice runner (drug smuggler). How quaint. Abrams and Terrio took the only leading character in the Sequel Trilogy portrayed by a Latino actor and transformed him into a drug lord. Where the two writers watching “NARCO” or old reruns of “MIAMI VICE” when they made this decision to Poe’s character? God only knows. I do know that in my eyes, this was another mark of racism on Lucasfilm’s belt.

Speaking of racism . . . what on earth happened to Finn? Following Rian Johnson’s shoddy treatment of his character in “THE LAST JEDI”, J.J. Abrams had assured the franchise’s fans that he would do justice to Finn. And he failed. Spectacularly. Did Finn even have a character arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”? The former stormtrooper spent most of the film either participating in the search for Palpatine, while keeping one eye on the constantly distracted Rey, like some lovesick puppy. He seemed to lack his own story in this film. “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” could have provided the perfect opportunity for Lucasfilm to further explore his background as a former stormtrooper. With the creation of Jannah, I thought it would finally happen. Instead, the movie focused more on Jannah’s questions about her origins. And Lucasfilm and Abrams wasted the chance to even consider at subplot regarding Finn and the First Order’s stormtroopers. Boyega also spent most of the film hinting that he had something important to tell Rey. Many believe he was trying to confess that he loved her. That is because the movie DID NOT allow him to finally make his confession. Even worse, audiences learned that he wanted to confess his suspicions that he might be Force sensitive. And Lucasfilm confirmed this. Why on earth could they NOT confirm Finn’s Force sensitivity on film? Why? What was the point in keeping this a secret until AFTER the film’s release?

I also noticed one other disturbing aspect about Finn . . . or John Boyega. I just discovered that John Boyega had been demoted by Disney Studios and Lucasfilm from leading actor to supporting actor. Only this had happened a lot sooner that I thought. In the studio’s Academy Awards campaign for “THE FORCE AWAKENS”, it pushed Boyega for a Best Actor nomination. But in both “THE LAST JEDI” and “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”, the studio pushed him for a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Yet, for all three movies, Lucasfilm and Disney also pushed a white actor for Best Actor. They pushed Harrison Ford (along with Boyega) “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. They pushed Mark Hamill for Best Actor in “THE LAST JEDI”. Yet, both Ford and Hamill were clearly part of the supporting cast. And they pushed Adam Driver for Best Actor for “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. Hmmmm . . . Driver went from supporting actor to lead actor, while Boyega was demoted from lead actor to supporting actor. A few more notches in Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. God, I am sick to my stomach. And poor John Boyega. He was poorly misused by Lucasfilm, Disney Studios, Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams.

As for Rey . . . I am completely over her as a character. Although I found her Mary Sue qualities annoying, I found her arc in “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a complete mess. The only good that came from her arc was the fact that Leia had trained her in the ways of the Force for a year. Otherwise, I had to grit my teeth and watch her behave in this chaotic manner throughout the entire film. Every time she and her friends were in the middle of some situation, she would get distracted by Kylo Ren’s presence and break away. Why? So she could kill him . . . I guess. Apparently, killing Kylo Ren was more important to her than completing a mission for the Resistance. Why? I have no idea. The movie’s narrative never explained this behavior of hers. And it gets worse. Rey eventually learns that she is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Granddaughter. Palpatine managed to knock up some woman years ago and conceive a son after he had become Emperor. That son conceived Rey with her mother before dying. Palpatine, who had been alive all of these years, never bothered to get his hands on Rey . . . until this movie. Why? I have no idea.

During Rey and Kylo Ren’s final duel, she managed to shove her lightsaber blade into his gut. And then she used the Force to heal him. Why? Perhaps she felt guilty for nearly killing him. Who knows? Later, she is killed by Palpatine (who could not make up his mind on whether he wanted her alive or dead) before Kylo Ren Force healed her. And then she planted a big wet kiss on his pucker. Lucasfilm and Disney claimed that the kiss was an act of gratitude on her part. I did not realize that gratitude could be so sexual. Nevertheless, Lucasfilm and Disney ensured that the only leading male that Rey would exchange bodily fluids with was one who shared her white skin. Despite the fact that this . . . man had more or less abused her – mentally and physically – since “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. There was no real development that led to this sexual kiss of gratitude. But I guess Disney and Lucasfilm were determined that Rey would not exchange a kiss with the two non-white men. Another notch on Lucasfilm/Disney’s racist belt. Oh . . . and by the way, the film or Lucasfilm had established that Rey and Kylo Ren were part of some Force dyad. What is a Force dyad? Two Force-sensitive people who had created a Force bond, making them one in the Force. And this happened because Rey and Kylo Ren were grandchildren of Sith Lords. I have never heard of anything so ludicrous in my life, especially since it was established in “THE LAST JEDI” that Snoke – a creation of Palpatine, by the way – had created their mental bond. How he did that I have no idea.

You know what? I could go on and on about “STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER”. But I now realize it would take a goddamn essay to explain why I dislike this movie so much. I should have realized that J.J. Abrams’ promises that he would fix the problems of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII – THE LAST JEDI” was worth shit in the wind. He, Chris Terrio, Disney Studios and Lucasfilm only made the Sequel Trilogy worse . . . as if that was possible. Not only was “THE RISE OF SKYWALKER” a waste of my time, so was the entire Sequel Trilogy. And it wasted the acting skills of its talented cast led by Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver for so many years.

“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” (1959) Review

“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” (1959) Review

Many of the Westerns produced and/or directed by John Ford were usually set during the post-Civil War era. Yet, the topic of the 1861-1865 conflict managed to worm its way or have some kind of influence upon either those films’ narratives or its characters. However, I can only recall two films directed by Ford that were actually set during the war. And one of them is the 1959 film, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”.

Not only is “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” one of Ford’s rare Civil War productions, it is also one of his few films that is based on a historical event or figure. The 1959 movie is a loose adaptation of Harold Sinclair’s 1956 novel. And both Ford’s movie and Sinclair’s novel is a fictionalized account of then Colonel Benjamin Grierson‘s Raid through Mississippi and Northern Louisiana in 1863. The movie began with the fictional version of Grierson, Colonel John Marlowe, receiving orders from Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman to lead his brigade behind Confederate lines from La Grange, Tennessee to destroy a major railroad and supply depot at Newton Station, Mississippi. Marlowe’s mission is to destroy the Confederate supply line and divert enemy’s army from Grant’s new plan to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. A cynical army doctor named Major Henry Kendall is been assigned to accompany the brigade. The brigade stops at a Mississippi plantation named Greenbriar for a brief respite. Greenbriar’s mistress, Miss Hannah Hunter,and her slave housekeeper Lukey manages to eavesdrop on a staff meeting, while Marlowe discusses his battle strategy. To protect the mission’s secrecy, Marlowe forces the two women to accompany the brigade.

Since the film is a fictionalized account of this historic event, all of the characters are fictional creations – with the exception of Union generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. Instead of portraying Grierson, leading man John Wayne portrayed a cavalry brigade commander named John Marlowe. Like Grierson, Marlowe was a civilian before the war. Whereas Grierson was a former music teacher and band leader, the Marlowe character’s former occupation turned out to be a railroad construction engineer. Grierson had been married during the Civil War. Marlowe was a widower. More importantly, Wayne was roughly in his early 50s when he shot the film. Grierson was three months shy of his 37th birthday during the actual raid. And since this movie is a fictionalized account of the raid, there were other differences between its narrative and the actual historical event.

Most film critics tend express enjoyment of “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, but at the same time, dismiss it as one of Ford’s lesser works. How do I feel about this? I honestly do not know. Some of of Ford’s most highly acclaimed films are not particularly favorites of mine. However, I do consider “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” to be one of my favorite Ford movies. My attitude could be attributed to being a Civil War history buff. But there have been plenty of Civil War movie and television productions that I simply do not like.

Mind you, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” had its problems. I found some of the performances either slightly over-the-top . . . to the point of some characters coming off as one-note caricatures. A good example would be the two Confederate deserters that Marlowe’s brigade had encountered. I find it ironic that although African-American characters like the maid Lukey were not portrayed with any real depth, they did not strike me as one-dimensional as the Confederate deserters or the military school commandant/reverend that Marlowe and his men had also encountered. Even some of the men under Marlowe’s command nearly struck me as one-dimensional – like Deacon Clump; Major Richard Gray, who served as leader of the brigade’s scouts; and a handful of other enlisted characters. Even the film’s leading female character, Hannah Hunter, initially came off as a caricature of Scarlett O’Hara. Fortunately, her character managed to develop throughout most of the film.

There were two aspects of the plot that left me scratching my head. I understand that Marlowe had forced Hannah Hunter and her maid Lukey to accompany his forces during the raid, because they had overheard his military plans. A part of me wondered why on earth did he stop at Miss Hunter’s plantation and prematurely exposed his brigade’s presence in Confederate-held Northern Mississippi in the first place? Following the brigade’s encounter with two Confederate deserters and an elderly judge who wanted to capture them, Marlowe allowed the judge (who came from Newton Station) to take the deserters captive and return to the Mississippi town. First of all, Union authorities tend to offer amnesty and restoration of U.S. citizenship to Confederate deserters – at least by 1863. And why would Marlowe be stupid enough to allow that judge – whether he had his prisoners or not – to return to Newton Station and warn its citizens of the incoming Union forces? Throughout most of the film, Marlowe managed to project an air of professionalism, despite his lack of pre-war experience or training as an Army officer. Yet, he made these two stupid decisions regarding the brigade’s stop at Greenbriar and the two Confederate deserters. And the screenplay never acknowledge this stupidity.

Not only did Benjamin Grierson and his brigade destroyed Confederate rail tracks, trains, bridges, storehouses and warehouses, the brigade also freed slaves. And yet . . . I do not recall any slaves being emancipated by Marlowe’s forces in the film. Why Ford and the film’s two screenwriters – John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin had failed to include this in the movie, I do not know. Racism perhaps? Yet, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” did not ignore the topic, thanks to Lukey’s presence and Major Kendall’s snide comments about the South’s dependence on slavery. The film was willing to make the occasional vague reference to slavery. Yet . . . it ignored Grierson’s anti-slavery actions during the raid. And the African-Americans encountered by the fictional Marlowe’s brigade in the movie remained enslaved. Ever since I first saw Ford’s 1956 movie, “THE SEARCHERS”, some of his films have always struck me as being politically confusing – as if he could never make up his mind whether some of the messages and themes were conservative or liberal. For me, “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” is another example of his political confusion.

Although I had my problems with “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, I still managed to enjoy it very much. It helped that the movie benefited from a famous historical event like “Grierson’s Raid” in the first place. This allowed screenwriters John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin to include exciting action sequences like the brigade’s occasional encounters with pursuing Confederate forces, the actual Newton Station attack, the brigade’s tension-filled effort to evade Confederate forces, while traveling through a Louisiana swamp; and an amusing battle encounter with students from a local military school. I was especially impressed with the Newton Station attack and the film’s last battle sequence that featured the brigade’s efforts to overcome a Confederate-held bridge in order to evade pursuing enemy forces and ride on to Union-held Baton Rouge. I thought Ford, along with film editor Jack Murray did an exceptional job with these two major action sequences. Not only did these two sequences managed to emphasize the heat, the blood and tragedy of war. Actually, there was two other sequences that did an excellent job of emphasizing the tragic nature of war – Major Kendall and a local doctor’s efforts to save the wounded soldiers following the Newton Station battle and Lukey’s death.

When it comes to costume designs in a John Ford movie, one can always count on them being rather mediocre – especially in one of his period films. The only Ford period film I can recall that featured eye-catching costumes was his 1936 movie, “MARY OF SCOTLAND”“THE HORSE SOLDIERS” featured one major female character and a scattering of minor ones. Yet, the women’s costumes in this film looked as if it came straight out of Hollywood warehouse. In fact, I checked the movie’s IMDB listing. Frank Beeston Jr. and Ann Peck supervised the film’s costumes. But they did not serve as costume designers. There was no costume designer for the film. Auuughhh! . . . frustrating! Come to think of it, there was no production designer for the film. I find this odd, considering a good deal of the movie was set at the Greenbriar plantation and another major setting was Newton Station. However, I should not be surprised. Aside from the natural beauties of Mississippi and Louisiana, I found nothing exceptional about the film’s production designs.

However, there were two aspects of “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” I truly enjoyed. One of them proved to be William H. Clothier’s photography of Mississippi and Louisiana for the film. Frankly, I found his images to be quite breathtaking – beautiful, sharp and original – as shown in the images below:

If there is one thing I can say about most John Ford films – you can always count upon a first-rate score to support its narratives. “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” marked the only time composer David Buttolph worked on a Ford production. But in my personal opinion, I thought he did an excellent job in providing the film’s score. He also wrote a first-rate title song for the film titled “I Left My Love”, which I felt perfectly captured the ambiance of the U.S. Calvary during the Civil War.

Earlier, I had faulted some of the performances featured in “THE HORSE SOLDIERS”, complaining that they had struck me as over-the-top and one-dimensional. Thankfully, I cannot say the same about all of the performances. There were some performances that I found either entertaining, very impressive or both. Granted, I found the performances of both Denver Pyle and Strother Martin, who portrayed the two Confederate deserters, rather broad and clichéd. Yet, I cannot deny they gave very entertaining performances. It is not surprising that the pair eventually became successful character actors. Another performance that caught my attention came from Willis Bouchey, who portrayed one of Marlowe’s regimental commanders Colonel Phil Secord. Bouchey’s Colonel Secord was an ambitious officer who hoped to use his military success for political office and second-guessed a good deal of Marlowe’s decisions. Granted, Bouchey’s performance did not strike me as clichéd as Pyle and Martin’s. But there were moments that it came dangerously close. And I must admit that he also gave a colorful performance. Another colorful performance came from Bing Russell, who portrayed the aggressive trooper Dunker. He must have been a very good actor, because the character came dangerously close to being one of those clichéd characters usually found in Western movies about the U.S. Army. But Russell managed to keep it tight and did an excellent job in conveying Dunker’s tragic fate.

Tennis champion Althea Gibson had been cast as Hannah Hunter’s personal slave, Lukey. Surprisingly, despite the role and the fact that Ms. Gibson was an experienced actress, one would think Lukey dripped with the slave/mammy cliché. I was surprised to discover that after reading Mahin and Rackin’s screenplay, she refused to portray Lukey unless they get rid of the obvious clichés and “slave dialect”. And even more surprising, Ford had capitulated to her demands, despite his past refusal to do so with other performers. Needless to say, Gibson did her best to prevent Lukey from becoming a racial stereotype and gave a pretty competent performance. She had one of the best lines in the movie. Judson Pratt gave a curious, yet very interesting performance as the brigade’s Sergeant Major Kirby. The character was a competent Army veteran, whose only major flaw proved to be his alcoholism. I cannot deny that the film’s use of Kirby’s drinking habit as comic relief was hard to watch. In fact, I found it a little distasteful. Kirby became one of those stock characters from an old Hollywood Western – the alcoholic Irish-American soldier. But Pratt did a good job in conveying Kirby’s competence. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Ken Curtis, O.Z. Whitehead, Carleton Young, Hank Worden, William Leslie, Hoot Gibson, Anna Lee, Basil Ruysdael, Ron Hagerthy and Russell Simpson.

It is a good thing the Hannah Hunter character proved to be a complex and character, because there were times when Mahin and Rackin’s screenplay came dangerously close to portraying her as a Southern belle cliché. However, the writing pair allowed the Miss Hunter to develop. Their efforts were helped by a first-class performance by Constance Towers. Mind you, the actress’ Southern accent did not strike me as convincing, especially in her early scenes. Thankfully, she rose above the “damn Yankees” cliché and gave an interesting portrait forced to rise above her privileged background and survive the turmoils of war. If I had my choice of the most sympathetic character in this film, it would be Major Henry ‘Hank’ Kendall, the brigade’s medical officer. William Holden gave an excellent performance as the observant, compassionate and uber-competent doctor, forced to endure Colonel Marlowe’s hostility and bitter comments about the medical profession. For myself, I believe the Kendall character had one flaw. He came off as a very ideal character – a Gary Stu, if I must be honest. If it was not for Holden’s wry and cynical performance, I would have regarded him as the least interesting character in this film. “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” would mark the first time that John Wayne portrayed a historical figure (or an adaptation of said figure) that was much younger than he was during the film’s setting. Even though John Marlowe could have been portrayed by a younger actor, casting Wayne in the role did not harm the film. Wayne had the good luck to portray one of the film’s most interesting characters. Superficially, Marlowe was the type many filmgoers would regard as typical in Wayne’s filmography – manly, competent and tough. But Marlowe also proved to be a complicated man haunted by the ghost of his wife, who had been killed by an incompetent doctor. Wayne not only skillfully conveyed Marlowe’s petty and ugly bullying of Major Kendall, but also gave a first-rate soliloquy that revealed the drunken officer’s tragic memories of his wife’s death at the hands of an incompetent surgeon.

I realize that “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” has its flaws. It is not regarded as one of John Ford’s best films. I am also aware that the movie had failed to make a profit. This was attributed to John Wayne and William Holden’s high salaries. But as I had stated earlier, it is still one of my favorite Ford movies. Being a Civil War history buff did not influence my opinion. I have seen a good number of Civil War movies that I either disliked or regarded as mediocre or absolute crap. I simply cannot regard “THE HORSE SOLDIERS” as absolute crap. And this is due to John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin’s screenplay, John Ford’s excellent direction and some excellent and interesting performances by a cast led by Wayne and Holden.

“STAR TREK VOYAGER: ‘The Art of Adaptability’”

“STAR TREK VOYAGER: ‘THE ART OF ADAPTABILITY'”

Over two years ago, I had posted an article called “STAR TREK VOYAGER – ‘Unfit For Command?'” on this blog. I n it, I had expressed my displeasure over the portrayal of Security/Tactical Officer Tuvok in the “STAR TREK VOYAGER” Season Two episode, (2.25) “Resolutions”. After viewing the episode for the umpteenth time, yesterday, I decided to focus upon another member of the Voyager crew, Ensign Harry Kim.

In the article about Tuvok, I had pointed out that screenwriter Lisa Klink managed to regress and completely misinterpret the Vulcan’s character in order to have him clash with the crew over contacting the murderous Vidiians in order to find a cure for Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. The latter had been left behind on a planet, infected with a contagious disease that could only be rendered harmless on said planet. Klink had portrayed Tuvok as a cold individual lacking in compassion and incapable of understanding the crew’s feelings over the missing Janeway and Chakotay. I had argued that this went against earlier portrayals of Tuvok, who had shown a capacity for compassion, instinct and open-mindedness in earlier episodes. Worse, Klink’s screenplay ended up endorsing Harry Kim’s behavior in this episode.

What was wrong about Kim’s behavior in “Resolutions”? For me, it was one of the most blatant displays of immaturity, temper and insubordination I have ever seen in a fictional character that happened to be a military officer. In fact, watching Kim’s attempt to coerce Tuvok into contact the Vidiians or start a mutiny against the Vulcan disgusted me, along with Klink’s willingness to endorse such a behavior. More importantly, it made me understand why Captain Janeway never promoted Harry Kim, during the U.S.S. Voyager’s journey throughout the Delta Quadrant. I could be making a mountain out of a molehill. After all, only two members of the crew had ever received a promotion – Tuvok in (4.05) “Revulsion” and Tom Paris in (6.26) “Unimatrix Zero, Part I”. In Paris’ case, he had merely regained his old rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade, after being demoted back in Season Five. Ironically, when Paris had received his old rank, Kim tried to convey a hint to Janeway that he would also like a promotion. The good captain wisely ignored him . . . as she should.

If I must be honest, I never got the impression that Harry Kim was very good at adapting to unusual situations – unless his life or the lives of others he cared about were on the line. His plotting against the Hirogen in (4.19) “The Killing Game, Part II” is an example of his potential for adaptation. But I never felt that he had truly learned to adapt to Voyager’s unusual situation in the Delta Quadrant. I believe that Harry was the type of person who was very comfortable with the status quo. With him stuck aboard Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway began to represent the status quo for him. If he had been serving aboard a Starfleet vessel in the Alpha Quadrant, I could see him rapidly climbing the command ladder. The Alpha Quadrant was familiar ground where he and his fellow officers could depend upon support from another star ship and where he could visit his family as often as possible. Being stuck in the Delta Quadrant aboard the only Starfleet vessel around was another matter for Kim. There was no way for him to communicate with his family, until the development of the Pathfinder project in Seasons Six and Seven. More importantly, Kim never really learned to adjust being so far from home. He was not the only crew member who had missed being away from family and friends for so many years. But he was the only crew member who constantly expressed a desire to be home or reacted in an excited or reckless manner when the opportunity to return home appeared.

One of the many constants about Harry Kim’s personality was that he had an extreme tendency to adhere to Starfleet policies or behavior aboard ship. Frankly, he possessed a conservative personality. He have never rocked the boat, unless his emotions drove him to that point. And in the case of his interactions with Tuvok in “Resolutions”, his inability to leave Janeway behind and adapt to a new ship’s commander eventually drove him to the point of insurrection. Quite simply, he missed the Captain and wanted his pseudo mommy back. And instead of giving Tuvok a chance to grow into command as the new captain, he wanted to risk allowing the Vidiians to board Voyager and harvest the crew’s organs Vidiians by contacting the latter. Mind you, the other members of the crew were just as guilty. But they seemed unwilling to do or say anything, until Kim openly confronted Tuvok about contacting the Vidiians and later, plotted behind his back. Frankly, it was sickening to watch his behavior unfold. What I found even more sickening was Klink’s decision to endorse Kim’s viewpoint when she had allowed Kes to convince Tuvok to contact the Vidiians.

In “Resolutions”, Tuvok had made it clear that he would remain silent about Kim’s insubordination. In other words, Kim got away with his immature bullshit, because the episode’s screenwriter wanted to portray the Vulcan in a slightly villainous light. But a part of me would like to think that either Janeway, Chakotay or both found out about Kim’s insubordination. That would easily explain why Janeway had ignored the young ensign’s hint about a promotion in “Unimatrix Zero” . . . or why he had never received a promotion during Voyager’s seven year journey through the Delta Quadrant. I could dream . . . right?

Five Favorite Episodes of “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY” Season Two (2019)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the All Access CBS series, “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY”. Created by Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman, the series stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” SEASON TWO (2019)

1. (2.11) “Perpetual Infinity” – Commander Michael Burnham of the U.S.S. Discovery has a surprising reunion with someone she had believed to be long dead, during the crew’s investigation of the phenomenon, Red Angel. Section 31 operatives Philippa Georgiou and former Starfleet officer/Klingon warrior Ash Tyler aka Voq sense a disturbing change in their commander, Captain Leland.

2. (2.09) “Project Daedalus” – The Discovery crew infiltrates Section 31’s headquarters and realizes that the artificial intelligence entity known as “Control” has destroyed it and may have possibly infiltrated the ship as well.

3. (2.05) “Saints of Imperfection” – In a race to save Ensign Sylvia Tilly’s life; Burnham, Astromycologist Lieutenant-Commander Paul Stamets, and the crew investigate the mycelial network, an alien landscape accessed, thanks to the ship’s spore drive. A surprising discovery awaits them and especially Stamets.

4. (2.08) “If Memory Serves” – After saving her adoptive brother, the wanted Lieutenant Spock, from Section 31; Burnham escorts him to the banned homeworld of Talos IV in order to discover his connection to the Red Angel. Stamets attempts to reconnect with his previously dead partner, Dr. Hugh Culber, after the latter’s rescue from the mycelial network. And Tyler struggles to shed the suspicions of Discovery’s crew, due to his past as Voq and his earlier decision to stay on the Klingon homeworld.

5. (2.03) “Point of Light” – The lives of Tyler and Klingon leader L’Rell are threatened by a Klingon house leader named Kol-Sha on Qo’noS, when Georgiou appears with a plan to save their lives. Amanda Grayson arrives aboard the Discovery with news for Burnham that Spock is wanted by Section 31 for the murder of three psychiatrists.